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Fiona Brewer

Today's micro and nano-enabled sensors are a key part of many high value product markets, but their development presents unique and specific challenges, especially to those in the medical, military and communication sectors. The development of these sensors is essential to enable greater functionality, efficiency and security in high value product design. A key challenge in the adoption of these technologies is the ability to connect the active sensor device or sub assembly to a general-purpose circuit board or suitable probe device for onward product integration.

April 1st, 2010

Nanotechnology in Packaging

Packaging is central to the integration of new and novel fabricated devices. In recent years there has been a switch towards the higher value added end, where simple ICs are now being integrated with complex structures such as MEMS.

In the last 18 months, severe weaknesses in the established IC markets have hit many supplier companies. However, throughout that period, significant growth in the emerging technology area of packaging and micro and nano-enabled sensors has offered a great opportunity for those who have been able to adapt their systems, processes and materials.

On Thursday January 21st 2010, the NanoKTN held its third Electronic Devices & Nano Systems focus group event at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). The organising committee was composed of the NanoKTN, JEMI and the Sensors & Instrumentation KTN, and hosted by the Science & Technology Facilities Council at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The group was established to examine the area of Packaging and MEMS, and aims to highlight and evaluate by discussion, the supply chain issues for the nanotechnology sector supplying products into the nano-electronics, MEMS and other related emerging hi-tech sectors such as healthcare.

This event saw presentations from key players in the industry, including BAE Systems (military applications), Toumaz (body area networks), Optocap (packaging solutions) and PandA Europe.

Overview of Pan European Packaging Activities and Initiatives
Professor Andrew Richardson, University of Lancaster

Andrew gave a comprehensive overview of the particular requirements, challenges and current collaborative activity in Europe as an introduction to the day. In particular, he highlighted the impact of the designs in enabling efficient integration of sensors and electronics. The lack of agreed standards has resulted in many custom designs, and the consideration of harsh environments makes it a necessity in this technology area. Andrew explained that in conventional microelectronics, the packaging represents around 70% of the final product cost and considers issues such as mechanical support, connections in and out, and chemical protection, but sensors packaging must also consider interfaces to the environment and protection of the devices. These additional considerations make the packaging even more valuable in sensors applications.

Integration of Sensors into Wireless Body Area Networks (BANs)
Richard McPartland, Toumaz Technologies

Richard introduced the ‘Sensium' low-power, wireless smart centre interface device platform that allows integration of a range of sensors into a ‘whole body area network' (BAN). This system makes it possible for over air programming of the sensor and transmits all the data as processed to date, rather than drawing data to reduce data payload. The calibration of sensors would be on the sensor and programmed in production, and the key advantage of a BAN is that it allows positioning of sensors anywhere in or on the body to optimise measurement. Monitoring multiple parameters reduces false alarms - for example: increased heart rate caused by short-term energetic activity such as climbing stairs. It also allows a reduction in power consumption, as the monitoring does not need to take place continuously.

MEMS Devices for Harsh Environments: Design, Fabrication and Packaging
Ian Sturland, BAE Systems

Ian's speech focused on packaging for harsh environments and the special needs of low volume applications, including aerospace. An important consideration in this niche area are challenging specifications such as high g sensitivity but high shock tolerance, working over a very wide temperature range, very low volumes (1-10,000), multifunction sensors and the limited capability of MEMS with CMOS.

Ian concluded that there was no such thing as a standard MEMS device, but that there are still advantages to BAE as a systems integrator, and with a flexible Fab facility, these challenges could be overcome. The presentation cited the example of the joint venture between BAE and SPP (now called Atlantic Inertial Systems) where the typical volumes were in the 10,000 off range with the bulk being sold to commercial markets, while to specialist military markets, much smaller quantities.

Discussions between delegates at the event highlighted many key issues between all members of the supply chain. The main issue concerning sensors manufacturers was the lack of collaboration within the medical community, especially clinicians. Companies were also unsure of the requirements and specifications of the devices.

It was agreed that the UK must be careful to not focus only on low costs products with high volumes, and to be smarter at developing flexible solutions, manufacturing and supply chains, to facilitate the lower volume but higher added value products that are usually less competitive in terms of low price. Funding was seen as key to enable a low cost/subsidised development of demonstrators that will encourage the supply chain to organise itself to supply these needs and prime the pump.

In conclusion, the sessions highlighted that delegates believe that good national facilities do exist, but must be further developed. There is a considerable lack of communication between all parts of the supply chain, as, albeit working in a similar space and on similar topics, neither is fully aware of how the opportunity to collaborate could connect the gaps they are struggling to fill.

Once these gaps have been identified and filled, we will start to see the commercial benefits of establishing an end-to-end supply chain, to enable UK technology innovators to get products to market faster and easier.

The NanoKTN is offering free membership to the nanotechnology supply chain and is actively encouraging anyone interested in receiving information about events, focus groups targeted at their markets, and the latest in government and public policy, to sign up today. Becoming a member of the NanoKTN offers direct access to the key contacts at the market leading companies who work in the micro and nanotechnology field.

For further information on the UK micro and nanotechnology (MNT) community and the NanoKTN, please visit or email .

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